How To Be A Proper Indian Wife
Updated: Sep 12
By: Leah Franqui
Sometimes you meet friends in the most unlikely of places. This is how it was for Rachel when her mother-in-law moved into the new apartment that she shares with her husband Dhruv.
Rachel is the main character in Leah Franqui’s new novel Motherland. She has recently moved to Mumbai with her new husband Dhruv who is of Indian descent. He has been offered a transfer from New York City with his company. The new job will afford them a better life than they had in NYC and a chance to travel and have adventures. What Rachel is not prepared for is when her mother-in-law Swati shows up at her door one day with her suitcases.
Swati announces to Rachel that she has left her husband of 40 years to live with them. Not only is it their job to take care of her, but it is her job to teach Rachel, the light-skinned American, the culture and practices of India. As you can imagine, this did not go over well. Rachel is an American who has no intention of living with her traditional Indian mother-in-law.
Rachel thinks that living in Mumbai will be full of adventures and since she loves to cook she imagined spending her days in the markets, shopping for wonderful supplies to create amazing Indian meals with. What she does not realize is that it is very hot, she has a very hard time communicating with the shop and stall owners, and that her husband rarely is home for dinner or home at all for that matter. The life that she is showing her friends on Instagram is not at all what is actually happening.
When Swati moves in with Rachel and Dhruv, Rachel assumes that her husband will have a conversation and send his mother on her way back to Kolkata, her hometown. What she soon realizes is that Dhruv will not send his mother home because he is an obedient Indian son and it is his duty to care for his mother. While Rachel doesn’t accept this, she does believe that with time, Swati will eventually go home. After all, India is very traditional and women who are married for 40 years just don’t leave their husbands, as they are too consumed with what others will think of them.
In the meantime, Rachel does whatever she can to leave the apartment while Swati slowly takes over. She takes over their bedroom, she hires a maid to come twice a day and a cook to prepare all of their meals for them. She starts telling Rachel how to run her household. At first, Rachel fights Swati but eventually just gives up and accepts her fate.
Having nothing of her own, Rachel decides to go out and find herself a job. Something that will not only get her out of the house but also focus her mind on something meaningful and fulfilling.
While this is going on Dhruv gets sent on a month’s long business trip leaving Swati and Rachel together in Mumbai to figure it out. I would have easily been on the first plane back to America, but Rachel does not want to abandon her marriage and her new life in Mumbai. She stays, and slowly, what starts out as a miserable houseguest turns into the most unlikely of friendships.
For anyone who has an overbearing mother-in-law, you will get a kick out of this novel. You will appreciate Rachel’s patience and you will be angry with Dhruv for being so clueless. It is a funny and relatable story even if your mother-in-law is nothing like Swati. It is also another book that displays the fake lives that people often depict on social media. The need for us to “put on a good face” for society when everything in your life is really crumbling to pieces.
The friendship that evolves between Rachel and Swati, becomes not only the coming together of two completely different personalities but also the discovering of one’s own true identity with the help of an unlikely friend. It is a beautiful story of a culture very different from our own and the importance of knowing your true self.
If you like this book, I also recommend Franqui’s first novel, America For Beginners, which was published in 2018.
By: Leah Franqui
Publication Date: July 14, 2020